The Interlingual Identification of Spanish and English Vowels: Orthographic Evidence

Academic Article


  • When someone who is learning a second language (L2) produces a sound in the L2 using a familiar, native-language (LI) category, the L2 sound is said to have been “identified with” an LI sound. Although interlingual identification exerts a powerful influence on L2 pronunciation, it is still poorly understood. Orthographic classification was used here to assess the interlingual identification of Spanish and English vowels. Sixty native speakers of Spanish in three experiments judged the vowels /i/, /i/, /ε/, and /æ/ in multiple tokens of English words (“beat”, “bit”, “bet”, “bat”) spoken by ten native speakers of American English. The subjects labelled each English vowel by circling one of the five letters used to spell the vowel phonemes of Spanish (viz. , , , < o >, < u > ) or by circling “none” if they thought they had heard a vowel not found in Spanish. Subjects who spoke English as an L2 used the “none” label more often than did Spanish monolinguals, suggesting that L2 learning heightens bilinguals’ awareness of cross-language phonetic differences. Experienced Spanish speakers of English did use the “none” label more often than did inexperienced subjects (42% vs. 18%). A few subjects used the “none” label consistently for /æ/ and /i/, suggesting that they may have regarded these vowels as “new” (i.e., non–Spanish). However, the group data provided little support for the hypothesis that the adult Spanish learners of English treated either /æ/ or /i/ as new. The great majority of subjects, even those highly experienced in English, identified English /æ/ with their Spanish /a/. © 1991, Taylor & Francis Group, LLC. All rights reserved.
  • Digital Object Identifier (doi)

    Author List

  • Flege JE
  • Start Page

  • 701
  • End Page

  • 731
  • Volume

  • 43
  • Issue

  • 3